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Journal of Business Research 69 (2016) 3981–3988

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Journal of Business Research

Organizational citizenship behavior and the enhancement of

absorptive capacity☆
Timothy A. Hart a,⁎,1, J. Bruce Gilstrap b,1, Mark C. Bolino c
Department of Management and Marketing, Collins College of Business, The University of Tulsa, Helmerich Hall, 2900 East 5th Street, Tulsa, OK 74104, United States
The University of Southern Mississippi, College of Business, Division of Management and International Business, Hattiesburg, MS 39406, United States
University of Oklahoma, Price College of Business, Division of Management, Norman, OK 73019, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Firm-level absorptive capacity has been conceptualized as the capability of the firm to identify, assimilate/trans-
Received 14 April 2015 form, and exploit new knowledge. Despite the fact that the role of individuals strongly influenced the original
Received in revised form 2 June 2016 conceptualization of the construct, the role of individuals in developing organizational absorptive capacity has
Accepted 3 June 2016
been largely ignored. Meanwhile, studies have shown that individual-level behaviors known as organizational
Available online xxxx
citizenship behaviors are related to indicators of organizational performance, yet there have been relatively
few theoretically-based arguments explaining this relationship. In this paper, we articulate a model that depicts
Organizational citizenship behavior how the organizational citizenship behaviors of individuals enhance a firm's absorptive capacity. Specifically, we
Absorptive capacity propose that citizenship behaviors moderate the relationship between routines and processes and the explorato-
Firm performance ry, assimilative, transformative, and exploitative learning capabilities that comprise organizational absorptive
Learning capabilities capacity.
Affiliative © 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction every night. From a theoretical perspective, overlooking the role of

individuals not only overlooks a key component of Cohen and
Research investigating the role that individuals within organizations Levinthal's (1990) logic but suggests that absorptive capacity is fun-
play in affecting organizational outcomes, which are generally referred damentally an algorithmic matching process: develop X amount of
to as “micro-foundations” has increased in recent years (Lewin, absorptive capacity in Y, and then your firm can learn Z. But what cre-
Massini, & Peeters, 2011). Scholars have argued that in order to under- ates competitive advantage out of knowledge is the unique and valuable
stand organizational concepts such as learning and knowledge, we must ways in which it is combined and applied. (Lane et al., 2006: 853-854)
develop a better understanding of the role individuals play in these pro- (emphasis added).
cesses (Felin & Foss, 2005). However, although absorptive capacity (AC)
is intricately related with both organizational learning and knowledge, We develop theoretical support for why organizational citizenship
AC researchers have focused less on individuals' contributions to its de- behaviors (OCBs) of employees contribute to the “unique and valuable
velopment, focusing instead on structural and procedural antecedents ways” that organizations acquire, assimilate/transform and exploit
(for exceptions, see Jones, 2006; Sun & Anderson, 2012). Indeed, despite new knowledge, which are the very foundations of AC. Prior work
being the focus of over 900 academic articles, Lane et al. (2006: 833) finds that it is often the informal, non-prescribed interactions of individ-
argue that researchers have failed to incorporate the role of individuals uals that leads to learning within organizations (e.g., Obembe, 2013). By
into AC models: its very definition, organizational citizenship behavior – “individual
behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by
From a practical perspective, omitting individuals from absorptive the formal reward system, and in the aggregate promotes the efficient
capacity models suggests that they are not important to knowledge and effective functioning of the organization” (Organ, Podsakoff, &
processing. Yet, in the real world, executives of knowledge-intensive MacKenzie, 2006: 3) – suggests that OCBs are precisely the types of
firms routinely worry about the fact that their core asset goes home behavior that fill the gaps between how firms have organized their
learning processes and what is actually needed for them to create com-
☆ The authors thank Linn Van Dyne and Lowell Busenitz for their helpful comments on
petitive advantage.
previous versions of this paper.
⁎ Corresponding author.
Employees who engage in OCBs are often referred to as “good sol-
E-mail address: (T.A. Hart). diers” because of their willingness to go above and beyond the call of
The first two authors contributed equally to this paper. duty (Organ, 1988), that is, to engage in these relatively discretionary
0148-2963/© 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
3982 T.A. Hart et al. / Journal of Business Research 69 (2016) 3981–3988

and less explicitly rewarded behaviors in order to improve the “efficient scientific and commercial ends. Ultimately, firms seek to produce valu-
and effective functioning” of organizations (Organ et al., 2006). Organ able commercial outputs such as new products, services, or other valu-
and colleagues identified several ways in which OCBs may accomplish able intellectual property (for more discussion of AC, see: Cohen &
this, including enhancing coworker productivity and improving coordi- Levinthal, 1990; Lane et al., 2006; Todorova & Durisin, 2007).
nation of team effort (see p. 200–202). Building on their intuition, we While each of these learning capabilities are unique in their foci, they
propose another way that OCBs contribute to organizational effective- are similar in that they are all comprised of various routines. Routines
ness: by enhancing each of the four learning capabilities that comprise have been defined as “patterned sequences of learned behavior involv-
AC. More specifically, we argue that these discretionary behaviors can ing multiple actors who are linked by relations of communication and/
be the vital link in the AC process that fills the gap between how AC or authority (Cohen & Bacdayan, 1994: 555) and are described as the
learning capabilities are formally structured and how they need to oper- “building blocks” upon which capabilities are built (Lewin et al., 2011:
ate in order to generate a competitive advantage. 82). Prior work in AC has articulated numerous routines that support
The proposed relationship between OCBs and organizational out- the learning capabilities within AC (Lewin et al., 2011). For example,
comes has been generally supportive empirically (Allen, Adomdza, & regularly interacting with knowledgeable people in an industry is one
Meyer, 2015; Podsakoff, Aherne, & MacKenzie, 1997) and conceptually way employees can explore for and acquire new, external knowledge,
(Organ et al., 2006: 200-202). These studies, however, have been largely which supports exploratory learning (Kohli, Jaworski, & Kumar, 1993).
based on the a priori assumption that such a relationship does in fact Creating cross-functional teams or scheduling time to meet with indi-
exist – with little theoretical justification for that assumption viduals from other departments to share different ideas and perspec-
(Podsakoff, Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Maynes, & Spoelma, 2014). That is tives can be an important component of assimilating new knowledge
to say, following the definition of OCB, researchers have attempted to or transforming existing knowledge bases, which fosters assimilative
verify a relationship between OCB and organizational outcomes, but ex- and transformative learning (Song, Montoya-Weiss, & Schmidt, 1997).
cept for a few examples (e.g., Bolino, Turnley, & Bloodgood, 2002), there Re-combining knowledge in new and different ways in order to develop
is little in the way of theory as to why this relationship might exist. In new solutions out of existing knowledge enables firms to more fully ex-
this paper we provide a theory-driven argument that OCBs enhance or- ploit their knowledge bases, which further develops exploitative learn-
ganizations' absorptive capacity (AC). ing (Kogut & Zander, 1992).
Our paper seeks to make two significant contributions. First, we pro- These routines, and the learning capabilities that comprise AC, oper-
vide a theoretical linkage between individual-level behaviors and firm- ate within the broader context of the structures and policies of the orga-
level outcomes beyond the definitional linkage that characterizes much nization (Lane et al., 2006). Prior work suggests that the knowledge
of the OCB literature today. In proposing a theory of how OCBs contrib- processing and learning capabilities of a firm cannot be fully understood
ute to a firm-level construct like AC, which is both theoretically and em- without understanding how it is organized (Kogut & Zander, 1992). For
pirically related positively to innovation (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990), instance, the number of hierarchical levels and the degree of centraliza-
organizational learning (Lenox & King, 2004) and long-term financial tion of decision-making are argued to affect how learning capabilities
performance (Prieto & Revilla, 2006), we make a noteworthy contribu- and knowledge processing develop and evolve over time. Similarly, or-
tion to OCB research which we hope will lead to new avenues of re- ganizational policies such as compensation plans have been linked with
search for the construct. Second, by articulating this perspective we influencing innovation (Hoskisson, Hitt, & Hill, 1993) and motivating re-
also contribute to the AC literature by focusing on a conspicuously- search in knowledge-intensive firms (Henderson & Cockburn, 1994).
overlooked aspect of the construct – namely, how individual-level be- In these ways, organizational structures and policies have been ar-
haviors contribute to the development of AC. In this paper, therefore, gued to affect AC and the underlying learning and knowledge process-
we develop a model that articulates the important linkages between a ing capabilities (Lane et al., 2006). They also act as the framework
subset of individual behaviors – OCBs – and AC. within which the routines and other activities that support AC capabil-
ities are created, maintained, and modified. We take the routines-as-
2. Theoretical foundations building-blocks analogy one step further and argue that individuals'
OCBs act as the mortar that holds those building blocks together. Even
2.1. Absorptive capacity if firms adopt and implement best practices in their structures, policies,
and routines, perfect alignment between these practices and the larger
Building upon the work of prior scholars (e.g. Mowery, 1983; Tilton, environment in which the firm exists is highly improbable. That is, no
1971), Cohen and Levinthal introduced the absorptive capacity (AC) system is perfectly created and no structure can foresee all eventualities
construct into the social science lexicon, defining it as the learning abil- (Katz, 1964). Thus, something more is required if organizations are to
ity of firms to “identify, assimilate, and exploit knowledge from the en- maintain and enhance AC. We argue that the OCBs of employees –
vironment” (Cohen & Levinthal, 1989: 569). Although the construct has their non-prescribed, discretionary behaviors – make the difference.
evolved and been redefined several times, a consistent theme through-
out the construct's development is that AC reflects the ability of firms to 2.2. Organizational citizenship behavior
beneficially utilize external knowledge through the learning capabilities
of exploration, assimilation, transformation, and exploitation (Lane Though the term “organizational citizenship behavior” first ap-
et al., 2006). peared in Smith, Organ, & Near's, 1983 article, the conceptual roots of
The first main component of AC is that of exploratory learning, in OCB extend considerably further into the past. Barnard, in his classic
which new knowledge is sought, identified, valued and then, if deemed work, The Functions of the Executive, said, “the vitality of organizations
appropriate, acquired. Once new knowledge has been brought into lies in the willingness of individuals to contribute forces to the cooper-
firms, it is connected with existing knowledge through the alternate ative system” (Barnard, 1938: 84). He further argued that this “willing-
processes of assimilation and transformation. Assimilation occurs ness” varies widely across individuals. The implication that some
when the new knowledge fits within the firm's existing knowledge individuals go above and beyond some technically-required level of
structures, which makes the new knowledge easy to absorb (assimilate) willingness highlights the discretionary aspect of OCB.
into the existing knowledge. In contrast, transformation occurs when Katz (1964: 132) also noted the importance of “actions not specified
the new knowledge does not fit within those structures. Instead, those by role prescriptions which nevertheless facilitate the accomplishment
structures must be modified (transformed) to accommodate the new of organizational goals.” Subsequently, Katz and Kahn (1966: 338) ar-
knowledge. The final learning capability supporting AC is that of exploit- gued that because organizational planning is never performed with per-
ative learning by which knowledge is applied towards productive fect knowledge and therefore cannot take into account all possible
T.A. Hart et al. / Journal of Business Research 69 (2016) 3981–3988 3983

Table 1
Definitions of affiliative and challenging OCBs.

Affiliative OCBs Behaviors that are cooperative in nature and are generally noncontroversial (Van Dyne et al., 1995: 252) and strengthen relationships
(McAllister et al., 2007).
Helping Behaviors targeted at individual others for the purpose of alleviating their struggles with work-related problems or potentially preventing
problems from occurring in the first place (Organ et al., 2006).
Sportsmanship Enduring difficulties and interruptions without complaining (Organ, 1988), keeping a positive attitude when things do not go as planned and
not taking offense when others discard one's suggestions and ideas (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Paine, & Bachrach, 2000).
Organizational loyalty Characterized by cooperation for the good of the organization and by commitment to the organization that goes beyond one's commitment to
other individuals, teams, and departments (Graham, 1991).
Organizational compliance Behaviors resulting from a mindset in which employees accept organizational rules, regulations, and policies, take extraordinary care to
complete tasks for which they are responsible, and generally practice effective stewardship of organizational resources (Graham, 1991).
Individual initiative Involves extraordinary levels of task-related behavior that are so far above and beyond the required level that they appear essentially voluntary
and is characterized by perseverance and conscientiousness (Borman & Motowidlo, 1993).
Civic virtue (some forms) Keeping themselves informed about the organization as a whole rather than simply focusing on their own job or department (Organ, 1988).
Self-development “Refers to improving one's own knowledge or working skills” (Farh, Zhong, & Organ, 2004: 247).
Challenging OCBs Behaviors through which employees express constructive criticism of the status quo for the purpose of creating improvement via change
(McAllister et al., 2007).
Voice “Expression of constructive challenge with an intent to improve rather than merely criticize” (Van Dyne & LePine, 1998: 109).
Taking charge “Voluntary and constructive efforts, by individual employees, to effect organizationally functional change with respect to how work is executed”
(Morrison & Phelps, 1999: 403).
Civic virtue (some forms) Use of critical thinking to identify problems or improvements and then speaking up, making suggestions for change.

contingencies, “the resources of people for innovation, for spontaneous OCBs, as exhibited through each of the specific types of OCBs described
cooperation, for protective and creative behavior are thus vital to organi- in Table 1, enhance each of the learning capabilities that comprise orga-
zational survival and effectiveness.” Thus, these relatively discretionary nizational AC. We next turn to those arguments.
behaviors play an integral role in organizations' knowledge and learning
processes. 3. Propositions
Given that OCBs are thought to facilitate organizational efficiency
and effectiveness (Organ et al., 2006), researchers have devoted sig- 3.1. The moderating effect of OCBs in general
nificant attention to identifying their antecedents. The most
established framework for understanding the occurrence of OCB is We posit that OCBs alter the efficiency and effectiveness of routines
social exchange theory (Homans, 1958). Generally speaking, this and processes on a firm's AC by moderating the effect that those rou-
perspective suggests that employees reciprocate the favorable treat- tines and processes have on the knowledge creation activities and learn-
ment they receive from their employer by going above and beyond ing capabilities that comprise AC. Although these learning-related
the call of duty (Organ, 1988). Consistent with principles of social ex- routines and processes may result from the firm's structures and poli-
change, studies have found that employees are more likely to engage cies (Lane et al., 2006), Katz (1964: 132) argued that “an organization
in OCB when they have been treated fairly (Moorman, 1991), when that depends solely upon its blueprints of prescribed behavior is a frag-
they are given meaningful and satisfying work (Bateman & Organ, ile social system.” Strict adherence to formally-prescribed routines and
1983), when their supervisors inspire and motivate them (Grant, processes, then, while important, is insufficient to bring about desired
2008), and when organizations are trustworthy, fulfill the promises outcomes. This highlights the importance of individual behavior within
they have made to employees, and show high levels of support the context of those routines and processes. Indeed, Lane et al. (2006)
(Turnley, Bolino, Lester, & Bloodgood, 2003). call for AC researchers to renew emphasis on the central role of the in-
Beyond social exchange, researchers have identified other reasons dividual in firm-level AC development recalls Barnard's (1938) conten-
that employees engage in OCB. For instance, some studies have focused tion that the very survival of an organization depends on the willingness
on how employees' personality and mood contribute to OCB (Ilies, Scott, of its employees to contribute their efforts to the organization, which he
& Judge, 2006), and other researchers have argued that OCBs are more conceptualized as a cooperative system. This cooperative system con-
likely to occur when employees feel pressured to engage in citizenship sists of not only routines and processes, but also the efforts of the em-
behaviors or see them as an expected part of their job (Bolino, ployees who labor to complete them.
Turnley, Gilstrap, & Suazo, 2010). It has also been argued that em- Barnard further argued that employees vary in their willingness to
ployees may be motivated to engage in OCB in order to enhance their contribute; some employees contribute more to the organization than
image or reputation at work (Bolino, 1999), or due to a combination do others. In general, then, employees who engage in OCBs – who go
of both self-serving and other-serving motives (Grant & Mayer, 2009). above and beyond the call of duty – exemplify increased willingness
Finally, more recent work has highlighted the complex role that multi- to participate in the cooperative system. The routines and processes
ple motives, cognitions, identity, and self-regulation processes may that drive a firm's AC are elements of that cooperative system. There-
play in understanding how employees process feedback regarding fore, to the degree that employees engage in affiliative and challenging
OCB and make decisions about engaging in future acts of citizenship OCBs, their efforts affect the outcomes of the firm's formalized routines
(Lemoine, Parsons, & Kansara, 2015). and processes, amongst them the firm's AC.
Although there are numerous examples and descriptions of OCBs We expect affiliative OCBs to strengthen the positive relationship
(for a comprehensive review, see Organ et al., 2006), researchers often between routines and processes and each of the four AC capabilities
classify them into two parsimonious categories: affiliative and challeng- (i.e., exploration, assimilation, transformation and exploitation).
ing (Podsakoff et al., 2014). Affiliative OCBs are behaviors that are coop- This is because of the cooperative and noncontroversial nature of
erative in nature, are generally noncontroversial (Van Dyne, Cummings, these behaviors (Van de Ven & Drazin, 1985). Put another way,
& Parks, 1995: 252), and strengthen relationships (McAllister, Kamdar, OCBs “lubricate the social machinery of the organization” (Bateman
Morrison, & Turban, 2007). Challenging OCBs, on the other hand, are be- & Organ, 1983: 588). This imagery illustrates how affiliative OCBs
haviors through which employees express constructive criticism of the allow firms' cooperative systems to function smoothly and efficient-
status quo for the purpose of creating improvement via change ly. However, the routines and processes that contribute to a firm's AC
(McAllister et al., 2007). We argue that affiliative and challenging vary according to the specific learning capability with which they are
3984 T.A. Hart et al. / Journal of Business Research 69 (2016) 3981–3988

associated (Lewin et al., 2011). Therefore, certain types of affiliative intent behind the routines and processes and practice this type of orga-
OCBs are especially beneficial to AC within the routines and process- nizational compliance will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of
es associated with specific learning capabilities, as we articulate the firm's exploratory learning capability. While employees who merely
below. comply with specific directives will provide standard and expected out-
Similarly, challenging OCBs will also enhance the efficiency and ef- comes for exploratory learning capability, when employees go beyond
fectiveness of routines and processes on the learning capabilities that minimum requirements, the chances of making important discoveries
support AC. Whereas affiliative OCBs are cooperative and non- increase.
controversial in nature, challenging OCBs are characterized by behaviors To the degree that firms are able to overcome tendencies to stick
that go against the status quo and may appear more controversial (Van with what they know and seek out new knowledge, the employees
Dyne et al., 1995). However, the intent of challenging OCBs is to im- doing the searching must be able to properly identify and value the
prove a situation by bringing about change (Morrison & Phelps, 1999), new knowledge when they encounter it (Todorova & Durisin, 2007).
so these types of OCBs will also enhance the efficiency and effectiveness In order to do that, employees must first possess a good idea of what
of the routines and processes that support AC, although by different “organizationally-relevant knowledge” actually is. Employees who ex-
mechanisms than affiliative OCBs. hibit civic virtue are more likely than others to possess this understand-
In the following four sub-sections, we describe how both affiliative ing because their level of involvement in the organization as a whole is
and challenging OCBs enhance the relationship between organizational greater. That is, because employees demonstrate civic virtue by attend-
routines and processes, and each of the four learning capabilities that ing meetings even when not required to do so (Graham, 1991) and
comprise AC. To summarize these relationships, Table 2 provides exam- keeping themselves informed about the organization as a whole rather
ples of how each OCB enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of the than simply focusing on their own job or department (Organ, 1988),
relationship between a firm's routines and processes and the learning they will be more knowledgeable about information that will contribute
capabilities that comprise AC. to organizational functioning. Thus, employees who engage in civic vir-
tue forms of affiliative OCBs enhance the intensity and direction of effort
3.2. The moderating effect of OCBs for the exploration learning capability to increase the firm's exploratory learning capability by improving the
identification and valuation of firm-relevant knowledge.
Employees enhance the firm's exploratory learning capability by en- After new knowledge has been sought out, identified, and valued,
gaging in affiliative OCBs that allow them to better seek out, identify, employees enhance the firm's exploratory learning capability by actual-
value, and acquire new knowledge. Despite the importance of incorpo- ly acquiring new knowledge. Zahra and George (2002) argue that the
rating new knowledge, firms tend to stick with what they know best ability of firms to acquire new knowledge is based on three key compo-
(Leonard-Barton, 1992). To overcome this potentially crippling tenden- nents – the (1) intensity and (2) speed with which new knowledge is
cy, firms need employees to use different techniques, search unexpect- sought out and (3) the direction of such efforts. Affiliative OCBs such
ed sources, and persist longer in search than they might normally be as helping and sportsmanship are particularly beneficial in all three of
inclined to (Zahra & George, 2002) and do so in ways not previously these arenas. For example, when employees help each other by sharing
considered by their supervisors. ideas related to knowledge search along a trajectory likely to result in
Several affiliative OCBs may allow employees to do just that. First, the identification and acquisition of new knowledge, the joint effort of
the affiliative OCB of generalized compliance involves using judgment both employees increases both the intensity and speed with which
and displaying initiative (itself a form of affiliative OCB) to adhere to new knowledge is acquired, in a fruitful direction. Alternately, if em-
the spirit of the policy or rule (Smith et al., 1983). Thus, employees ployees involved in exploratory learning routines do not receive help
exhibiting generalized compliance venture beyond established rou- but instead just “buckle down” and persist in their work without
tines, guided by their understanding that the spirit of the routine is to complaining, those employees exhibit sportsmanship, which likewise
acquire valuable resources for the firm. Employees who recognize the increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning routines.

Table 2
Summary of how affiliative and challenging OCBs enhance absorptive capacity.

Affiliative OCBs Affiliative OCBs “lubricate the social machinery of the organization” (Bateman & Organ, 1983: 588) by enhancing cooperation and
strengthening relationships amongst workers (McAllister et al., 2007), which enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of the routines
supporting AC learning capabilities.
Helping Strengthens relationships between workers, improves knowledge transfer, increases the rate of learning by new employees and fosters
diffusion of best practices amongst workers, which enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of learning routines (Organ et al., 2006).
Sportsmanship Reduces petty complaints, offenses, and in-fighting, which increases the amount of energy available for efficiently and effectively engaging in
learning capabilities (Organ et al., 2006).
Organizational loyalty Fosters a focus not on what is best for the individual, but what is best for the organization (Graham, 1991), which increases the attention and
energy devoted to the learning capabilities.
Organizational compliance Adherence to the spirit of organizational rules and routines guides employees to extend learning routines beyond that which is formally
prescribed, which enhances the effectiveness of those routines (Podsakoff et al., 2000).
Individual initiative Going far beyond what is formally required of employees creates additional opportunities for exploration, assimilation, transformation, and
exploitation of knowledge, which enhances AC.
Civic virtue (some forms) The ability to see the big picture, and where particular routines fit into that grand scheme, allows employees to more thoughtfully and
competently execute their assigned routines, which increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning capabilities (Organ, 1988).
Self-development Gaining valuable skills through self-development increases the ability of employees to more competently execute their assigned routines and,
perhaps, increase the types of routines they understand and can participate in (Farh et al., 2004).
Challenging OCBs Challenging OCBs seek to bring about change and improvement to the routines supporting AC learning capabilities by challenging the status
quo (Van Dyne et al., 1995).
Voice Taking responsibility to not only observe and discover new and improved ways to execute routines, but also to then have the courage to voice
those ideas in a respectful way, brings vital improvements to routines that enhance AC (Van Dyne & LePine, 1998).
Taking charge Identifying needs and then taking responsibility to address them, even when it is not part of a job description to do so, reduces the burden on
managers to make all such necessary changes, which increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the learning capabilities that support AC
(Morrison & Phelps, 1999).
Civic virtue (some forms) Providing feedback on the how routines are performing enables managers to make more informed decisions regarding whether, and how, to
make important changes to routines, thereby enhancing AC (Organ et al., 2006).
T.A. Hart et al. / Journal of Business Research 69 (2016) 3981–3988 3985

One of the biggest challenges with developing and sustaining an ex- In contrast to affiliative behaviors that promote cooperation, chal-
ploratory learning capability is that firms have, over time, a natural ten- lenging behaviors encourage questioning rather than accepting the sta-
dency towards exploitative behaviors and away from exploratory ones tus quo (McAllister et al., 2007). Although knowledge that is amenable
(Levinthal & March, 1993). In other words, they become better and bet- to assimilation can be more easily incorporated into existing knowledge
ter at what they do and see less and less need to incorporate new structures without much modification, that is not to suggest that taking
knowledge. However, it is imperative for firms to reinvigorate existing time to question and challenging existing frameworks would be with-
knowledge structures with new knowledge lest their competencies out benefit. For example, when firms acquire new knowledge that ap-
turn into rigidities (Leonard-Barton, 1992). This is where challenging pears to fit well with existing knowledge, there may be a sense that
citizenship behaviors should be especially helpful. the existing knowledge structures do not need to be modified. However,
For example, when employees engage in the challenging OCB of employees who take time to examine the new knowledge and exercise
voice, they make innovative recommendations to change routines and voice behaviors will prompt those involved in the integration to pause
processes even when others do not share their opinion (Van Dyne & and consider what the new knowledge may bring to the firm. In this
LePine, 1998). Therefore, when employees encounter exploratory rou- way, while the speed of learning may be slower, the depth of learning
tines and processes that they believe do not help the firm seek, identify, may increase. Therefore, we make the following proposition:
value, and acquire useful information, their use of voice to rectify that
situation should improve the firm's exploratory learning capability. P2. OCBs enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the relationship be-
Such behavior is also consistent with the challenging OCB of taking tween a firm's routines and processes and its assimilative learning capability.
charge, through which employees try to bring about appropriate chang-
es in how their work is accomplished (Morrison & Phelps, 1999), and
with exercising influence, in which employees engage in critical think- 3.4. The moderating effect of OCBs for the transformation learning capability
ing to identify problems and improvements before voicing their recom-
mendations for change (Graham & Van Dyne, 2006). In these ways, In contrast to assimilation, transformation is required when newly
challenging OCBs also enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the acquired knowledge does not fit well with existing knowledge
firm's exploratory learning capability. Therefore, we propose that: (Todorova & Durisin, 2007). As such, existing knowledge and cognitive
structures must be transformed to be able to incorporate the new data.
In such settings, when new knowledge cannot be incorporated into
P1. OCBs enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the relationship be-
firms until existing knowledge structures are modified, affiliative and
tween a firm's routines and processes and its exploratory learning capability.
challenging OCBs may again be quite beneficial.
For example, exercising influence – a challenging OCB – involves
using critical thinking to identify problems and then speaking up
3.3. The moderating effect of OCBs for the assimilation learning capability (voice) to make suggestions for improvements (Graham & Van Dyne,
2006). Critical thinking that leads to alternative ways of conceptualizing
Building on prior work by Piaget (1952) on cognition and learning, existing knowledge in order to accommodate newly acquired knowl-
Todorova and Durisin (2007) argue that a firm's newly-acquired knowl- edge is crucial for transformative learning. However, it is not always
edge can be described as being either generally compatible or generally easy for employees to think critically about their own firms. Repeated
incompatible with existing knowledge bases. However, regardless of patterns of behavior and inertia set in and make it difficult for em-
the degree of compatibility, at least some modification to existing ployees to understand what needs to be changed (Levinthal & March,
knowledge bases must be made. When new knowledge is generally 1993). This is why exercising critical thinking and influence is likely to
compatible with existing knowledge, the degree of modification re- be above and beyond the normal job description of most employees.
quired to incorporate that new knowledge is likely rather low. In such Additionally, if and when employees are able to discover areas that
circumstances, firms are more easily able to interpret and comprehend need to be changed, they must then take the next (and perhaps fateful)
the new knowledge through existing cognitive frameworks and assim- step of speaking up and exercising influence to lead change. Depending
ilate it more readily (Zahra & George, 2002). upon the nature of the new knowledge to be incorporated, perhaps
Employees who engage in affiliative OCBs enhance the efficiency of even radical changes may be required, which could fundamentally
assimilative learning because of the cooperative nature of those behav- alter power relationships within firms (Tripsas & Gavetti, 2000). Indi-
iors, which are instrumental in promoting an efficient and effective or- vidual employees, then, may perceive this change brought about by
ganization. For example, when a new employee is involved in routines others who have engaged in challenging OCBs as a threat to their own
or processes designed to facilitate interpreting and understanding power. Because of the defensive response one would expect from
newly-acquired knowledge, more experienced coworkers would be these threatened individuals, taking charge is a potentially risky, chal-
able to draw upon their years of experience to help them better under- lenging OCB in which to engage. However, given how important it is
stand existing knowledge bases or how the new knowledge fits in with for firms to self-reflect and change their own operations in order to re-
it. Therefore, if the less experienced employee falls behind in their work, main competitive, such behaviors are tremendously beneficial.
the veteran might assist him or her in getting caught up – even though Despite the importance of identifying and implementing such
doing so is not part of their job. The same sort of helping might be ap- changes, doing so is not easy for firms. That is why, in addition to the im-
preciated when an unexpectedly large amount of information needs portant challenging behaviors of critical thinking, voice and influence,
to be processed and a deadline for doing so looms. transformative learning is also enhanced when employees engage in
Assimilation may also involve sharing information with other em- affiliative behaviors. For example, the affiliative OCBs of sportsmanship
ployees as they seek to understand and organize the new knowledge and courtesy will ease tensions raised by conflict in the knowledge
within the firm's existing knowledge structures. To the extent that em- transformation process. For example, firms often employ cross-
ployees feel threatened by the changes that may ensue because of the functional teams to deal with difficult problems. As these employees
new knowledge, they may attempt to carve out a knowledge fiefdom who possess different skill sets and perspectives discuss an intractable
for themselves by not sharing information or doing so only reluctantly problem, they may propose wildly different ideas. Employees who ex-
and with great difficulty. However, employees who engage in organiza- hibit sportsmanship will not be defensive when their ideas are chal-
tional loyalty would be cooperative in this regard due to their loyalty to lenged (Podsakoff et al., 2000), and they will be more willing to share
the organization rather than to themselves or other individuals or knowledge, particularly if it is in some way atypical or unusual, because
groups (Graham, 1991). they will not be as concerned if their attempt is rebuffed. Furthermore,
3986 T.A. Hart et al. / Journal of Business Research 69 (2016) 3981–3988

those who exhibit courtesy will take greater care in challenging others' In addition to these affiliative behaviors, challenging OCBs can also
ideas, reducing the likelihood of raising others' defenses. be beneficial for supporting exploitative learning capabilities. Because
Transformation may also require the alteration of existing routines efficient and effective exploitative learning is able to reuse and recom-
and processes. Again, such changes highlight the importance of sports- bine knowledge is ways not previously considered, challenging OCBs
manship and courtesy. Good sports roll with the punches, accepting the may be particularly useful. To come up with innovative ways to
inconvenient change without making a fuss. Courtesy, on the other (re)use knowledge, it may be necessary to challenge the status quo of
hand, is especially important when the change affects someone who is how that knowledge has been previously used. Thus, when it is neces-
not a good sport because forewarning such individuals may make sary to change normal routines and processes, challenging OCBs should
them more receptive to the change; failure to warn “poor sports” be particularly beneficial in instigating and bringing such changes to
might be particularly costly. Therefore, we propose that: fruition.
When exploitative learning routines and capabilities need to be
P3. OCBs enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the relationship changed because of the incorporation of new knowledge, employees
between a firm's routines and processes and its transformative learning who exert influence (a challenging form of civic virtue) can be helpful
capability. in identifying how, what, when and where changes need to be made
and then speaking up in order to bring to fruition the changes they per-
ceive to be required. When employees exhibit these types of behaviors,
3.5. The moderating effect of OCBs for the exploitation learning capability they enable firms to overcome inertial forces and make changes that
will allow firms to exploit new knowledge, which will increase the like-
Employees also enhance firms' exploitative learning capability by lihood of long-term competitiveness of the firm. Therefore, we propose
engaging in OCBs that allow firms to make use of newly acquired and in- that:
corporated knowledge for the production of commercial or scientific
ends (Lane et al., 2006). In general, firms establish routines and process- P4. OCBs enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the relationship be-
es for the purpose of allowing them to exploit knowledge (Zahra & tween a firm's routines and processes and its exploitative learning capability.
George, 2002). These routines and processes must be sufficiently effi-
cient to allow firms to use current knowledge to obtain short-term
gains, but if firms are to survive in the long-term, routines and processes 4. Discussion
must also be adapted to exploit new knowledge as it is acquired and
incorporated by firms. Thus, for both short- and long-term viability, em- 4.1. General discussion
ployee behaviors that help firms make the most of existing exploitative
routines and processes, as well as behaviors that help modify those rou- In this paper we argue that specific types of individual-level behav-
tines and processes, are vital (Levinthal & March, 1993). iors (OCBs) contribute to the development of firm-level absorptive ca-
Affiliative OCBs should be especially beneficial in the context of pacity (AC), which in turn may ultimately result in competitive
existing exploitation routines and processes because of their coopera- advantage. More specifically, we suggest that various forms of affiliative
tive, noncontroversial aspects, which allow employees to focus on and challenging OCBs increase the firm's exploration, assimilation, trans-
their work rather than on debates about the appropriateness of the formation, and exploitation capabilities by moderating the efficiency and
workflow and conflicts over deviations from established routines. One effectiveness of the routines and processes that support the learning ca-
affiliative behavior that can provide such benefits is that of organiza- pabilities of AC. These relationships are important because of the role of
tional compliance, which is exemplified by conscientious adherence to AC in achieving competitive advantage (Zahra & George, 2002).
organizational routines (Graham, 1991). If knowledge is to be exploited Our contribution is twofold. First, by proposing relationships between
over an extended period of time, formally-prescribed routines and pro- specific individual-level behaviors and the firm-level construct of AC, we
cesses are necessary. When employees pay particularly close attention contribute to the AC literature, which has not significantly addressed the
to organizationally-prescribed routines, haphazard departures from role of individual-level contributions to the building of AC (Lane et al.,
the operational practice will be lessened. Although the routines and 2006). In this paper, we have attempted to bring individuals more prom-
processes inevitably will need to change, such change should be guided inently into the AC conversation by suggesting ways in which specific
by the context in which the routines and processes are embedded rather types of behaviors contribute to the development of AC. In making this
than by the whim of each individual employee. contribution, we also build upon prior work by Organ et al. (2006)
However, organizational compliance does not consist of blindly which identified several ways in which OCBs might contribute to the
adhering to obviously outmoded routines and processes. Rather, truly overall effectiveness of organizations (2006: 200–202). In their book,
compliant behavior requires adherence to the spirit of the routine. Thus, Organ and colleagues suggest that OCBs may enhance organizational ef-
when employees who exhibit this type of OCB encounter a situation in fectiveness by enhancing coworker productivity, coordinating activities
which the existing routines are inadequate, rather than responding in a between team members, or creating social capital (see pages 200–202
haphazard way they may instead turn to organizationally-prescribed for more reasons and examples). We extend their general ideas by artic-
methods for dealing with this sort of problem. Such methods might in- ulating specific, theoretically-driven ways in which OCBs contribute to
clude either another existing routine that allows the process in question each of the four learning capabilities that comprise AC.
to continue to completion or, instead, a feedback process that halts the Second, by explicating the relationship between various types of OCBs
current routine and initiates investigation of the unexpected situation. and AC (which is positively associated with firm-level performance), we
The point is that compliance is not necessarily rote behavior but can address a long-standing issue in the OCB literature, and one for which
actually enhance dynamic processes like those involved in exploitation there are few theoretical explanations. Indeed, for many years, it was sim-
capability. ply assumed that OCBs contribute to firm-level performance. In recent
Sportsmanship, too, is important in the context of exploitative rou- years, researchers have sought to confirm this assumption empirically
tines and processes. Though these routines and processes are formally with generally supportive, but sometimes equivocal, results (e.g., Allen
established, new knowledge may be acquired at any time and may ne- et al., 2015). Perhaps the reason for this situation is that empirical re-
cessitate alteration of those routines, often with very little advance no- search has not been guided by well-grounded theory. In this paper, we
tice. Sportsmanship, then, would be valuable because people who are have attempted to provide a theoretical explanation for how individual-
good sports have a roll-with-the-punches mentality that allows them level OCBs might contribute to firm-level performance and encourage ad-
to maintain a high level of functioning even in a dynamic environment. ditional empirical investigations into these relationships.
T.A. Hart et al. / Journal of Business Research 69 (2016) 3981–3988 3987

4.2. Managerial implications relationship. In doing so, we believe that there are several potentially-
interesting ways in which this line of inquiry could be extended in fu-
To the extent that OCBs do indeed contribute to the development of ture research. One such way is to consider that the external environ-
AC there are at least two managerial implications. First, organizations ment may alter the importance of some types of AC and thus, some
should seek to hire employees who are more likely to engage in OCBs. types of OCBs. For example, Eisenhardt and Martin (2000) suggest
Although the relationship between dispositional characteristics and that in moderately dynamic markets firms will rely more on existing
OCBs is relatively weak (Organ et al., 2006), two personality character- knowledge, rendering AC as a dynamic capability less valuable. In
istics included in the Five Factor Model of personality (Digman, 1990) turn, OCBs would also be less valuable as a mechanism by which to in-
do have a positive relationship with OCBs: conscientiousness and agree- crease AC. However, in high-velocity markets AC becomes much more
ableness (e.g., Ilies et al., 2006). Given the widespread use of personality valuable because extracting new knowledge from the environment be-
assessments in the employee selection process, organizations may al- comes especially important, thereby – according to our theorizing –
ready be collecting this data, which could be used to identify applicants making OCBs more important as well.
who are disposed to engage in higher levels of OCBs than some other
However, the relationship between these personality characteristics 5. Conclusion
and OCBs is mediated by employee attitudes such as job satisfaction
(Ilies et al., 2006), which highlights a second managerial implication: It is evident that individual contributions are vital for the creation of
managers should consider how their actions influence employees' competitive advantage, but due to uncertainty in the organizational en-
workplace attitudes. For example, employees who perceive themselves vironment even rigorously-planned deployment of employees is likely
to be treated fairly tend to experience higher levels of job satisfaction to fall short of optimal results. Thus, Katz and Kahn (1966) suggest
and organizational commitment, both of which, in turn, are positively that non-directed behaviors – like OCBs – may partially fill that gap. Fur-
related to OCB (Moorman, 1991). Moreover, employees tend to engage thermore, in their discussion of dynamic capabilities, Teece, Pisano, and
in more OCBs when they also view their managers and the organization Shuen (1997) argue that “it is difficult if not impossible to tightly cali-
more generally as being trustworthy and providing high levels of sup- brate individual contribution to a joint effort”, and in so saying they
port (Turnley et al., 2003). Other research suggests that managers echo the position taken by Katz and Kahn over 30 years prior. Our fun-
should seek to design jobs in which their employees find meaning and damental suggestion is that OCBs are one way that people – acting with-
significance; when employees perceive their work to be meaningful, in the structure, yet largely independent of organizational control – may
they experience higher levels of job satisfaction and, again, are more increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the routines and processes
likely to engage in higher levels of OCBs (Grant, 2008). Therefore, man- from which an organization's AC is derived.
agers may consider designing routines in which those charged with ex-
ecuting them will find meaning and significance.
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